After storming the Capitol Building in a riot, Trump supporters left a flag outside the Capitol, Wed., Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

After storming the Capitol Building in a riot, Trump supporters left a flag outside the Capitol, Wed., Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

This is Not a Coup

The mob riot on the Capitol Building was disgusting, violent, and deadly. It’s still not a coup. And that matters.

It’s not a coup. It’s awful. It sucks. It’s appalling. It’s illegal. It’s ugly. It’s not a coup.


Coups don’t ask permission from courts and parliaments. Coups don’t come without any military, police, secret police, or armed forces of any kind on their side. Coups don’t let free press be the free press. Coups don’t beg for it over Twitter. Coups don’t rely on nearly-spontaneous, short-lived, mostly unarmed mobs to break into one building. 

There’s a lot of debate over this word on social media today. How much opposition to an existing government is enough to qualify as a coup?

Britannica says: “Coup d’état, also called coup, the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.”

Merriam-Webster says a coup is much less: “a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics — especially: the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group.”

But the fact that we are debating whether what is happening in the United States today is a coup should be clue enough that it’s not. Congress was already back in session debating in the hall where today’s alleged “coup” occurred, less than six hours after it began. 

But let’s consider it. 

Has Donald Trump or anyone around him commandeered battalions, brigades, squads of any military unit to help him keep power? No.

Are fighter jets scrambling above, dropping bombs on government positions, intimidating national military forces? No.

Are tanks rolling in the streets? No.

Are Democratic leaders like Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer under arrest by Trump-loyalist forces? No. 

Are Trump supporters throwing up every legal roadblock to Joe Biden’s peaceful transition that they can? Yes. Are factions of the government defying laws and authorities to maintain the president’s power? No.

Did Trump encourage today’s brand of violent rejection of government for four years and right on through the riot on Capitol Hill? Yes. Did he order today’s actions, order the Capitol Police to let it all happen, and is he or his team leading other orchestrated unlawful avenues to hold power? No, not that we know of. 

Do you think Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley were orchestrating a coup? Give me a break. On Wednesday, they were orchestrating a political headache by lining up members to make speeches on cable TV and lining up supporting senators in the legislature. 

In Turkey in 2016, coup plotters blew a hole the size of a car through the wall of the legislature that killed 12 people. I saw the hole. On a trip with Defense Secretary Ash Carter through Ankara, our press motorcade waited outside the building where the American military leader was shown exactly what Turkey’s government withstood. We concluded that Turkish officials left the hole open and rubble uncleared as a message. 

In Washington, the purported insurrectionists tweeted. They shouted. They stormed into the Capitol. They took pictures sitting in the speakers’ chairs on the House and Senate chamber floors, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. One woman, apparently a rioter, was shot and killed — it’s not clear by whom. The circumstances are unclear. That’s a tragedy. It’s not a coup. None of it. It’s a riot. A political riot.

Many shaken liberals and Democrats insist otherwise. Rep. Jackie Speier, R-Calif., said Trump was “fomenting a coup d’état” today. She knows about political violence

Trump has ignored all decorum. He and his allies have used every possible legal challenge he can find to protest the election result. He has lied at every opportunity about the actual result of the election he lost. As recently as this morning, he told supporters that “we will never give up; we will never concede.” 

It’s still not a coup.

Journalists and pundits have spent four years shouting how much that words matter. Trump’s disregard for decorum, his family and his staff’s disregard for truth and facts matter. His looseness with labels matters. And those critics were right. They should hold themselves to the same standard they desired from Trump. 

Wednesday afternoon in Washington was sickening and astonishing. It was more than uncouth. It was violent. It was deadly. It was defiant of the Constitution and the rule of law. 

By 8:09 p.m., the joint session of Congress that had been interrupted by the violence was gaveled back into order by Trump’s most loyal sidekick, Vice President Mike Pence. Regular order had resumed. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., in his speech resuming the session, called it a “failed insurrection” and “criminal behavior.”  He then resumed the business of deliberating as Americans do. With their words. 

“We will certify the winner of the 2020 presidential election,” McConnell said, echoing his earlier vow to reject Trump’s political maneuverings, and speaking just hours after a special election as Georgia cost him his seat as majority leader.  

“These war rioters and insurrectionists. Goons and thugs. Domestic terrorists,” said Schumer, who will assume McConnell’s position as majority leader later this month. “Violent extremists.”

“This mob was, in good part, President Trump’s doing, incited by his words, his lies.” 

Members stood one after another late Wednesday evening demanding that those who fomented and committed today’s crimes — and those who were so unprepared for it — be held accountable. The rioters, the vandals, the assaulters, the plotters, the Capitol Police, the senators, and the president. The investigations to come, and what the forthcoming Biden administration and Democratic Congress does about it, all will be on trial. The rise of homegrown extremism will be tried. The rhetoric will fly. It will get worse. How U.S. national security leaders approach these crimes will set a tone for what is permissible and not, where the line is between dissent and insurrection. The penalties for sitting in Pelosi’s office chair for a cheeky photo are a lot different than the penalties for treason.

Mob. Riot. Terror. Extreme. There are lots of words to describe this dark day. Coup, is not one of them.